GI parasites are a very common ailment in kittens, and should be combatted through standard preventative measures and proactive treatment as needed.
All kittens should be treated for common parasites such as roundworms and hookworms at 2, 4, and 6 weeks of age. This can be done at a veterinarian, or at home.
To deworm a kitten at home, you'll need a digital scale, a 1cc syringe, and a bottle of oral dewormer which can be purchased online or at a pet supply store. You'll want to purchase Pyrantel pamoate 50mg/ml suspension. Follow the dosing information. Regardless of the age you deworm, always follow up with at least one more dose 2 weeks later.
Some kittens will have parasites that aren't covered by your standard dewormer, such as tapeworms, coccidia, or giardia. If the kitten is dewormed, but her poop still doesn't seem quite right, ask a vet for a fecal exam to test for other parasites.
Coccidia is a nasty little single-celled organism that causes mucousy diarrhea in kittens, and can be treated with the prescription drug Ponazuril. Giardia is another protozoan infection, resulting in soft, frothy, greasy diarrhea, which can be treated with Panacur. Tapeworms are often found in kittens who have had fleas, and may be visible in the feces (they look like gross little grains of white rice)--you'll need Praziquantel to get rid of them.
If the kitten has diarrhea, mucousy or extra-stinky stool, or other GI woes, get a fecal exam by a veterinarian to determine which parasite is present and to obtain a prescription medication. Only a veterinarian can properly diagnose and prescribe treatment. If you suspect parasites, don't delay--take them to the vet within 24-48 hours and quarantine them from other animals in the house to avoid contamination. Parasites are generally easy to treat, but can be lethal if left untreated in a tiny kitten.
Watch my "How to Deal With Kitten Diarrhea" video for more information about causes and treatment for diarrhea.
Learn more about GI parasites from Kitten Lady's veterinarian, Dr. Erica Ellis, below.
Gastrointestinal Parasites in Kittens by Dr. Erica Ellis, DVM
A. What is the culprit?
The most common organisms who infect the gastrointestinal tract of kittens include protozoa like giardia, tritrichomonas feotus, and cryptosporidium parvum. Worms like diplidium caninum (tape worms) are also possible cause of diarrhea, and weaned kittens are susceptible to ancylostoma tubaeforme (hook worms) and toxocara cati (round worms).
B. How are different parasites transmitted?
Protozoa are spread by infective feces that can contaminate food, water, or other objects that even a young kitten could lick. The queen may not be showing any symptoms despite a chronic infection, so do not rule this cause out even if the kitten’s mother is healthy. Tape worms are spread when kittens ingest fleas. Round worms or hook worms transmission requires ingestion of contaminated feces or of hosts ranging from rabbits to earthworms. As such, these parasites are less likely to infect neonatal and infant kittens but are still worth ruling out in older kittens.
C. What symptoms will the kitten show?
Protozoal parasites: Diarrhea, which can tend to be mucoid and foul-smelling
Hook worms: Malaise, poor weight gain, a distended abdomen, anemia, a rough hair coat, diarrhea, and blood in the stool
Round worms: Intermittent diarrhea, a distended abdomen, failure to gain weight despite ravenous appetite, possibly white, noodle like worms in the stool
Tape worms: You may see no symptoms, or you may see worms resembling rice grains in the stool
In all of these cases, the author cautions you not to rule out a parasite because one symptom noted is not seen. It is also not prudent to attempt to base a diagnosis on the color or consistency of the stool, as this varies a great deal from one kitten to the next.
D. How can I prevent parasitic infection?
Vigorously clean food bowls, water bowls, and any syringes, nipples, bottles and tubes after each use by a kitten. Also remember to quarantine any new kitten entering the home both for the safety of other cats and for the safety of the kitten. Your cat may never show any symptoms of tape worms and may be free of any fleas, but a flea can easily jump onto your cat, return to the kitten, be ingested by the kitten, and transmit tape worms. Scoop litter boxes daily and thoroughly clean and wash them 1-2 times weekly.
E. How might my veterinarian diagnose these parasites?
Protozoa can sometimes be seen on a test of the feces, and can be more definitively diagnosed on a blood test called an ELISA. However, treatment is normally given instead of testing since these tests can be either inaccurate or expensive and the treatment for organisms like giardia is unlikely to be harmful or cause side effects. Hook worms and round worms can be seen on a fecal flotation test which simply requires a poop sample, and tape worms are also more easily treated for than diagnosed.
F. How might my veterinarian treat these parasites?
The treatment of choice for protozoal organisms is an oral drug called fenbendazole, also known as panacur, for 7 days. Round worms and hook worms are both treated by a couple of doses of a different liquid, oral dewormer called pyrantel pamoate. Tape worms are treated with a single injection of a drug called praziquantel. Do not trust OTC dewormers claiming to cure tape worms, as these are often misleading and only treat a specific species of tape worm that rarely occurs in the U.S. Also make sure to consult with a veterinarian before giving any dewormer, since often times the concentrations vary from product to product. Giving pyrantel made for horses may be far too concentrated and cause serious issues for a kitten even though you give the same amount of fluid.
G. Helpful Hints for Vets
Remember that panacur is more useful in presumptive or prophylactic deworming of neonatal or pediatric kittens, because transmammary and transplacental transmission of hook worms and roundworms respectively only occurs in canids. As such, if a kitten has not been weaned then she or he would not have ingested a paratenic host nor larva in feces. Also, a recent study found 50% of necropsied cats in a shelter environment were positive for D. caninum, and fecal flotation failed to diagnose this in 100% of those positive cats.